How Testing Is Destroying Education

Jeff Bryant, in Nation of Change, has presenting a good argument for re-thinking our focus on testing as the true measure of the effectiveness of teaching. This is an old argument of mine and this article makes some excellent points that I will add to my arsenal.

testingHow Test Obsession Is Killing Education

Jeff Bryant, Nation of Change

Decisions to pass or fail students, rate teacher “ineffective” or “effective,” even keep schools open or close them down are now being made to an ever-increasing extent based on scores.

Scores on the SAT – “the nation’s most widely used” college entrance exam – made news headlines recently, and the averages are either a “call to action,” a sign of progress, or “meaningless.”

Confused? You should be. Because reports of testing data, whether they’re the SAT, the ACT, the NAEP, or some other alphabet car wreck, rarely reveal the grand aha moment claimed and are more so indicators of just how far off base the nation has gone in understanding what matters most for school children. …

At every corner and level, the national debate about education policy is dangerously mired in squabbling about what “the data” reveal about the quality of American schooling, while in the meantime, teachers go begging for the very pencils students need to fill out the oh-so-critically-important tests. …

What to believe: Critics of public schools are right that America should be number one in the world? Or defenders of public schools are right that public schools are doing unbelievably well given the difficult circumstances heaped upon them?

Or how about this: That maybe the vaunted data continuously extracted from massive data banks of test scores really don’t support conclusions drawn from them. …

“The real question isn’t about why the scores went up or down,” as Valerie Strauss puts it, … “but whether or not the results tell us anything valuable about a student’s achievement and abilities. They don’t.”

Strauss bases her conclusion on evidence drawn from a place where far too few observers of testing data dare to go – what’s actually on the tests. …

Despite the mounting evidence that testing does not revel the truth we think it does, the juggernaut nevertheless continues to roll on, as states spend billions more on ever-more expensive yet generally unproven new tests.

The impact that test data obsession has on day-to-day practices in schools cannot be overstated.

Decisions to pass or fail students, rate teacher “ineffective” or “effective,” even keep schools open or close them down are now being made to an ever-increasing extent based on scores.

Educators who now create school “reward programs” in a never-ending Skinnerian process to improve scores really believe they are “incentivizing learning.” As at least one teacher involved in these kinds of schemes recently enthused, “It is easy to teach them when they know they have these nice rewards.”

In the meantime, skeptics like Strauss pose the $1,000 question more people need to ask: “Why … use test scores for high-stakes purposes when the scores have very little, if any, meaning?”

I personally want to thank George W. Bush and the Idiocracy he represented for that oh-so valuable unfunded program, No Child Left Behind. Just the fact that Dubya was a champion of education says it all. I truly don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I remember the train wreck that was the Bush administration.

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